Sometimes, we think about going to therapy as looking for a solution to a problem. We think that in order to feel better, we need to focus on and talk about all of the things that are going wrong in our lives. We think that solving our problems can only happen if we find a way to stop whatever it is that is leading to our suffering.
What if we shifted our perspective toward thinking about what we want out of life instead of focusing on moving away from what we DON’T want? Looking at our lives and allowing our actions to be guided by the things that we value can be helpful in providing this new perspective that inherently reduces our own suffering without focusing on doing so. The term “values” refers to the people, places, things, ideas, and concepts that we want more of in our lives. Values are the very things that give our lives meaning. We have the freedom to choose our own values and create a life that supports living in line with our chosen values.
Values are not goals. Where goals can be achieved, accomplished, and checked off a to-do list or a bucket list, values are constantly guiding us as we move through life. We may set goals that are in line with our values, but living in line with our values is a task that we fulfill again and again. For example, we may set goals to be in a relationship or get married by a certain age. However, if we value being loving partners, we need to continue living in line with that value day after day.
Before you can begin to live in line with your values, it’s important to first explore what you value.
Make a list of who and what matters most to you
What’s important to you? What would you value if there were no barriers to living the life you want? What kind of person do you want to be? Think not about what you are currently doing or what you think you are capable of, but what you strive to be (without judgment).
Begin by exploring these domains: Intimate relationships, family, friends, work, community, spirituality, pleasurable activities
Create committed actions
It might feel overwhelming to look at all of your values and determine if you are living in line with them. First, begin by choosing one or two values that you would really like to move toward. From here, create a committed action, or a concrete, measurable goal to keep you committed to living in line with your values.
Value – Connection
Committed Action – I commit to making a phone call to two friends whom I haven’t spoken to in a while within the next week
Committed actions can be made daily, weekly, or monthly. Remember that choosing a valued direction might not be easy, and commit to tolerating discomfort that might come up as a result.
Keep a journal
Each day or week, record what value you chose to focus on, what your committed action was, and whether or not you were able to follow through. If you were not successful, what got in the way? If you were successful, how did it feel?
Ask yourself “Does this bring me closer to or further from my values?”
It’s easy to get all caught up in our thoughts and the chaos of our day to day lives. When faced with a tough decision, ask yourself which choice or action brings you closer to your values. When feeling tempted to act on an urge, ask yourself if what you are about to do will bring you closer to your valued life, or closer to suffering. Keep in mind that choosing the valued direction does not always feel good in the moment.